I grew up around music. “Grandpa Lou,” a professional drummer, introduced me to music and a visit to Levittown never failed to produce endless hours of joy exploring new songs. He would accompany me on his snare drum to such songs as “The Golden Wedding” and “Red River Valley.”
Grandpa Lou’s son, my uncle Howie Mann, started his career playing in local bands in New York City. During World War II he played with the 392 Band Unit in Camp Lee, Virginia. After his discharge he went on the road, with big bands led by Elliott Lawrence, Hal McIntyre, the Dorsey brothers and others. He performed at the Hollywood Palladium and at the Paramount in New York City. His playing is heard on many big band recordings, including Elliott Lawrence’s “Elevation.” He also led his own small band, which provided music for shows featuring such artists as Nat Cole, Mel Torme and Edie Gorme and Steve Lawrence. He gave up traveling in 1952, after the birth of his first child, but continued to perform widely. “Uncle Howie” played with the New York Jets Stage Band at Shea Stadium for 14 years, and for the last 24 years he led the Howie Mann Big Band at a wide range of venues in New York City and Long Island. His band was part of the MPTF-sponsored Jazz Nexus series, which brought jazz to hundreds of New York City schools. He was also one of the city’s leading drum teachers, helping to develop several generations of drummers for almost 40 years, from his Hicksville Drum Studio. Uncle Howie introduced me to jazz and influenced my transition from my Harmony acoustic guitar to my first electric.
As a performer, I played the local coffee house circuit alternating nights with fellow Iona College classmate Don McLean and opened on the steps of Cardinal Spellman Hall for The Beach Boys and The Four Tops. New York City clubs like Malachy’s II beckoned me into the Big Apple. I started adding original songs to my repertoire of covers and penned a few ones good enough to get me a songwriter contract with Burlington-Felsted, the publishing division of recording industry giant London Records, Inc. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to join the A&R team at London.
I had the wonderful opportunity during the height of the British wave of music to have worked with such artists as The Moody Blues, Dave Edmunds, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, VanMorrison with Them, Al Green, ZZ Top…the list goes on. I went on to produce legendary jazz pianist Erroll Garner, chart-topping singer-songwriter Leslie Pearl, Armadillo World Headquarters house band Greezy Wheels and many others.
I’ve been blessed to perform at legendary CBGBs in New York City and the world-renowned Bluebird Cafe in Nashville.